The Greater Houston area is home to some of the best baseball talent in the country. A look at the Class 5A state champions over the past 30 years shows 19 of them have come from that part of the Lone Star State.
Fort Bend Dulles is one of those 19, winning it all in 1989. With a strong group of returning starters, including an extremely deep pitching staff, the Vikings may help Greater Houston add to that impressive win total this year.
According to Houston 5A Baseball, Dulles returns a signed collegiate player at seven different positions this year, four of them headed to Division I schools. Much of the depth is on the mound, where Dulles returns 23 wins from last year's 27-10 team.
"Hopefully pitching will be our strength," said coach Clinton Welch. "We do have returning depth."
The depth has made Dulles a favorite in Class 5A in Texas this year. Houston 5A Baseball picked Dulles as its preseason No. 1 while the Texas Baseball Coaches Association has Dulles as the No. 2 team in the state.
MaxPreps has Dulles coming in at No. 8 in the Xcellent 25 Preseason National Rankings. MaxPreps is counting down the top 10 baseball teams in the country to start the 2013 season, with the final Xcellent 25 to be released Feb. 19.
Topping the list of Vikings headed to the college level are senior centerfielder Darryn Sheppard
(signed with Baylor), senior pitcher Dakota Mills
(West Virginia), senior shortstop Caden Williams
(Houston) and senior first baseman Zack Belski
Sheppard is the top returning hitter for the Vikings with a .400 batting average and six home runs to go with 33 RBIs. Belski, meanwhile, batted .367 with five home runs and 29 RBIs.Nick Hernandez
, a senior headed to Alvin Community College, may be the best two-way player on the team. The District 23-5A Player of the Year last season, Hernandez batted .351 with four home runs and 25 RBIs while posting a 7-2 record on the mound with a 1.3 ERA.
Hernandez is joined on the mound by Mills, Williams and Coleman Butler
. Mills led the team in wins at 9-2 while posting a 1.10 ERA. Williams was 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA while Butler was 3-2 with a 3.30 ERA.
Mills, Belski, and Sheppard joined Hernandez on the All-District first team last year, along with the graduated Brady Latimer, who is attending the University of Houston. Butler was a second-team pick.
The Vikings' toughest task may be getting out of district play. District 23-5A contains some of the top teams in the state with Fort Bend Elkins, Fort Bend Kempner, Fort Bend Clements and Fort Bend Dulles all advancing to the state playoffs last year. Elkins has a strong history with three state titles to its credit. Meanwhile Kempner reached the regional finals last year and Clements reached the semifinals. Both were knocked out by eventual state champion Cypress Ranch.
Dulles won a pair of playoff series before falling to Clements in the quarterfinals. A deeper run in the playoffs this year is quite possible, but Welch doesn't want to get ahead of himself.
"We have six playoff-caliber teams in our district. We must first maneuver into one of the playoff spots within our district. Until that happens, other goals are pointless."